Girls Always HappyNarrative|2018|1h 56min|Unrated
Rising Chinese director Yang Mingming both directs and stars in GIRLS ALWAYS HAPPY – a mother-daughter story that goes for the jugular. Wu (Yang Mingming) and her mother (Nai An) live in a Beijing hutong – an old community of cramped alleyways where everyone knows your business and houses are so close together you can smell when neighbors start using a new cooking oil. It’s not just the neighborhood that’s claustrophobic. At the heart of GIRLS ALWAYS HAPPY is the relationship between Wu, an aspiring screenwriter in her 20s, and her bitter, superstitious mother, who has recently turned to writing as well. The tension between the pair is raw, honest, mean, and sometimes funny – with no blow too low and no memory too painful to poke at. But their relationship has its moments of intimacy and tenderness too, especially over meals in their leaky, jam-packed home. As Wu and her mother bicker, they also worry about money and carry on their own misadventures in love. Wu dates and then dumps an older film professor (Zhang Xianmin, playing himself), while her mother cynically cares for Wu’s grandfather, hoping the women will be written into his will. GIRLS ALWAYS HAPPY is a more conventional narrative film than Yang Mingming’s earlier work. But it is no less remarkable – marked by the keen eye for visual detail, and unique sense of humor and irony she previously showed in her genre-bending film FEMALE DIRECTORS. Particularly striking are the shots of Wu on her scooter – bright, carefully composed sequences that follow her through the alleyways of the hutong and the broad boulevards of Beijing. Emotionally intense and sometimes jarring, GIRLS ALWAYS HAPPY is a film about fraught relationships, life in contemporary Beijing, and the challenge of finding your way forward while tied down by the past.